“USA Hockey is do or die,” proclaims the gold medal chant. This team made it clear from the start that they were determined to grab their chance to participate in the tradition of kneeling with their teammates in the dressing room, hoarsely screaming those words with arms thrown around each other’s necks, hands buried in each other’s hair, still fully geared up.
The thing about how the American Development Model, and by extension the NTDP, is set up is that by the time the Americans get to World Juniors, the gold medal is a team dream they’ve been working toward together for three or four years. Guys from the outside are welcomed in wholly and immediately, but the core of these teams are guys who have been fighting with and for each other for literal years.
This win is special because they’re not just playing for their country—more than any other team in this tournament, I think, because of the level of centralization, they’re playing for each other.
“The saying is ‘champions walk together forever’, and it’s true. We will walk together forever,” Kieffer Bellows told Jill Savage of NHL Network on the ice postgame, a sentiment repeated by alternate captain Colin White.
The 2017 USA team is one for the history books in so many ways. They secured the USA’s second medal in a row for the first time since 2010 and 2011. They finished the tournament undefeated—a 7-0 record—something that’s a record for any USA team, according to Chris Peters. They’re also the only group to beat two different teams twice on their way to the gold medal.
The USA also had the most diverse team in the tournament, with three non-white players and one Jewish player. On a team of 23 players, that doesn’t really get to qualify as “diversity” for a nation as diverse as the United States, but it’s less white than we usually see from USA Hockey and that’s encouraging. Hopefully the needle continues to move toward something that can be considered actual diversity.
While some felt it was a shame that easily the best 80 minutes of international men’s hockey of the last several years was decided in a shootout, after the US win over Russia, it was perfectly apt for the game to be decided by one goal from the now-legendary Troy Terry, and five shootout saves from Tyler Parsons.
Enough cannot be said about Parsons’ performance in the last two games, and especially against Canada. As the game wore on and he continued to shut down their best players, even during tense scrambles, a feeling of inevitability began to grow. Anyone who watch him during the 2016 Memorial Cup knew he wasn’t going to lose this gold medal game if it was remotely within his power, and indeed he was a brick wall in the shootout.
A significant amount of credit should go to Bob Motzko and the coaching staff. This was a very well-prepared, well-coached team who made clear improvements with each game, and actively worked (with obvious support) to recover from their stumbles. They took four lines of skilled players, and seven (for the most part) offensively-minded defensemen, and to a man each player bought into the plan throughout the entire tournament.
There’s a feeling of destiny that surrounds certain teams. This year was the first time I’ve had that feeling about any USA Hockey team since the 2013 World Junior Championships. Their team motto was “No daylight between us”, and it showed in their play and in the end result.